In preparation for NFL training camps kicking off, we at Full Press Coverage will preview 10 of the most notable players at each position around the league. In these groupings, we will examine the three best (The Now), four who are ready for the next step (The Next) and three who have to show some sign of life in 2019 (The Needy). Next up, offensive tackles.
1. David Bakhtiari, Packers
For what it is worth, none of these top-three tackles were first-round picks. That is not to say tackles are not worth taking in the first, but it is indicative of how much of a crapshoot drafting offensive line can be. Bakhtiari is the quintessential example of that. A fourth-rounder in 2013, Bakhtiari has been the starting left tackle since day one, and has proven to be the premier pass protector in the NFL today. Green Bay has been pass-heavy the duration of Bakhtiari’s career, yet he consistently ranks among the lowest in total sacks allowed every single year. This past season, Bakhtiari led NFL tackles with a pressure percentage of 3.4. And yet, he has only one Pro Bowl to his name. Three All-Pros, but just the one Pro Bowl. Until he is a household name, Bakhtiari will remain the most criminally underrated offensive lineman in the NFL today.
2. Terron Armstead, Saints
In an era where run blocking is an afterthought for left tackles, Armstead has defined balance. He is one of the premier pass blockers in the game–just 11 pressures in 2018–but also cleans up in the run game. He and Ryan Ramczyk have helped the Saints develop one of the most versatile and dangerous offenses in the game the last few years. The one issue holding Armstead back from potentially holding the top spot here is his health; he has yet to play a 16-game season in his six-year NFL career. But the injury troubles do not appear to be breaking him down like they are with Jason Peters. Rather, they are merely holding him out. When he is on the field, Armstead remains dominant.
3. Mitchell Schwartz, Chiefs
Another model of consistency and balance, Schwartz was a major cog in the Chiefs’ offensive explosion these past two seasons. Today’s NFL focuses on the left tackle, but a number of great pass rushers (Von Miller, Khalil Mack, Danielle Hunter) rush far more from the offense’s right. As such, having a steady right tackle is arguably just as important. Hence, why Schwartz has been so valuable to Patrick Mahomes. Schwartz allowed a pressure rate of only 3.6 percent last year, fifth among all tackles. Where he separates himself a bit is his durability. Since going in the second round in 2012, Schwartz has started all 16 games every single season. He is the definition of an NFL iron man.
Honorable Mentions: Ryan Ramczyk, Andrew Whitworth, Lane Johnson, Tyron Smith
1. Ronnie Stanley, Ravens
It feels strange to describe a former sixth-overall pick as under-the-radar, but that is exactly what Stanley has been the last three years. He has been a starter since day one, has played at least 800 snaps in all three seasons and has been a steady presence on the left side of the Baltimore line. And yet, few talk about Stanley as a great tackle. As a pass blocker, few young tackles have been better than Stanley. He surrendered only 20 pressures in 2018, which ranked among the best in the NFL.
So why does Stanley sit with the “Next” group instead of the “Now” group? One answer is for his run blocking, which has been solid if not overly dominant. Stanley makes his blocks more often than not, but does not overwhelm opponents. But more than that, frankly, reputation plays a big role here. Stanley should be considered among the better left tackles in the game, but he is not, for whatever reason. For him, being “Next” is stepping into the realm of the best tackles in the league. He is already pretty close as a pass protector; his notoriety simply needs to catch up.
2. Laremy Tunsil, Dolphins
Once the top tackle prospect in his class, the famous draft day video saw Tunsil plummet to third on the tackle board and 13th overall. Since the 2016 draft, Tunsil had done little to move the narrative from his draft day snafu over to his play. He had been inconsistent at best, and certainly not worthy of the first-round pick Miami used on him. But then came 2018. Suddenly, Tunsil at least gave inklings that he had a bright future ahead of him. He surrendered just one sack while also making some improvements in the run game. As a result, Miami picked up his fifth-year option.
Tunsil may not have the star ceiling that his draft profile once suggested. What he does have, however, is a clear path to becoming a well-above-average starter, something that seemed unlikely two years ago. Even steady, average left tackles are hard to find in the NFL, and it appears Miami at least has that. If Tunsil can make a further leap in year four, they may have even more than that going forward.
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3. Mike McGlinchey, 49ers
Typically, college tackles take time transitioning their run blocking to the NFL. Not only are defenders bigger, faster and stronger, systems are different, therefore blocking is different. This especially rings true for tall, relatively slight tackles like McGlinchey. And yet, the rookie out of Notre Dame proved to be an excellent run blocker right out of the gate. For all the questions about his lankiness and power, McGlinchey made up for it with excellent awareness, quick feet and athleticism. He separated himself from other rookie tackles with how quickly he took to that aspect.
Pass blocking was more of a mixed bag, but McGlinchey’s traits make him intriguing. He surrendered 40 pressures last year, quite a lot for a right tackle. However, his impressive length and athletic ability give hope that he can approach elite status at some point. For now, merely an upgrade to average would make him one of the better young tackles in the game; that is how good his run blocking was last year. But if he is above average as a pass blocker, we could be looking at the next great young tackle.
4. Brian O’Neill, Vikings
Coming out of Pittsburgh, O’Neill was the prototypical left tackle “project.” He was tall but lanky, super athletic but not overly powerful. His traits pointed to potential star in the future. However, that future seemed years down the road. But then, surprisingly, O’Neill stepped into Minnesota and made immediate progress. He added some weight, unseated the starting right tackle and went on to have a fairly productive year as a pass blocker. Among players with at least 10 starts, only three players did not surrender a sack: Tyron Smith, Terron Armstead and Brian O’Neill. Two of those are perennial All-Pro candidates.
While his run blocking is a work in progress and his pressure rate is higher than his sack rate, O’Neill looks like he will be an above-average starter right away. And with the Vikings’ offensive line woes, that rapid boost could not be more welcome. For O’Neill, his next level comes from improving his strength to enhance his effectiveness against bull rushes and in the run game. And maybe, not too far down the road, he can make the switch over to left tackle to replace the uneven veteran Riley Reiff.
Honorable Mentions: Braden Smith, Trent Brown, Taylor Decker
1. Ereck Flowers, Washington
Flowers has been a tackle for every start of his four-year NFL career. But truth be told, if he wants to invigorate a lackluster career in Washington, his best chance will be bumping inside to guard. Washington just signed Donald Penn, presumably in the event Trent Williams goes elsewhere, so the only spot for Flowers is left guard. Maybe that move will be the transition Flowers needs to make his high selection worth it. It is never a good sign when a top-10 pick cannot stick on a team starving for offensive line help. But Washington is rebuilding somewhat at the moment. That could be the perfect situation for Flowers as he looks to rebuild himself.
2. Greg Robinson, Browns
Penalties, inconsistent play and three teams in three seasons. That is currently the legacy of a former second overall pick. Just five years ago, Robinson went to the Rams ahead of Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan, both of whom have gone to Pro Bowls. Meanwhile, Robinson failed to stick with the Rams and the Lions, until last season when he was beaten out for the starting left tackle spot by an undrafted rookie. And while Robinson ultimately took the starting job midway through the season, he was the weak point on an otherwise solid line.
This year, Robinson enters as the presumed starter at left tackle. On a young offense with a lot of promise, he stands as the lone nagging question. Robinson is only signed for 2019, so if he proves a liability to Baker Mayfield’s blind side, Robinson’s time in NFL starting lineups could be at an end.
3. Germain Ifedi, Seahawks
Here is another first round pick who is staring a “bust” label square in the face. The fact that Ifedi has started all but four games since goings 31st overall in 2016 is a minor miracle, given the struggles he has had in three seasons. On top of lagging in both phases, Ifedi has ranked among the penalty leaders in the NFL the past two seasons. Even as his pass blocking has improved the last 12 months, his inefficiencies as a run blocker have hampered the Seahawks’ offense. And Seattle runs the ball a lot, so having one signficant liability on the line can be detrimental.
This is the last year of Ifedi’s rookie deal. If all continues on the same path, chances are Ifedi is going to find himself elsewhere in 2020. Seattle has already declined his fifth-year option, so it seems they are equally pessimistic for Ifedi’s prototypical traits transitioning to production.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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